Wednesday, 29 November 2017

TANZANIA: Zanzibari Cuisine, Pork And Alcohol Are Taboo In Swahili Culture

WaSwahili or people of the coast refers to an ethnic and cultural group of people, like Kazija and Bahati, who reside in the Great African Lakes Districts, the language KiSwahili is a national language of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is spoken across several more regions too.

With its roots in the Bantu language, KiSwahili took shape with the arrival of the Arab traders from around the 2nd century AD.

By the 11th century AD Swahili culture was defined, along with the rise of Islam.

The Swahilis adhere to the Muslim faith and it’s entrenched in all aspects of life from architecture to dress code – woman wear modest but colourful patterned kangas with headscarves in matching materials, music, art and of course, food.

Consequently, pork and alcohol are taboo in Swahili culture.

Swahili cuisine reflects in some way or the other, the long history of conquest and occupation along the east coast by the mighty seafaring nations of the time – the Portuguese, the Arabs and the British.

Arabic and Indian influence, the latter from immigrants and traders who arrived on the coast, bear the strongest influence on Swahili food, though on the whole, food of the East coast of Africa is sometimes referred to as bland.

This certainly isn’t the case in Zanzibar, where Swahili culture is dominant. Once famed as the spice island, Zanzibari cookery contains dishes flavoured with cloves, ginger, pepper, some chilli and fresh coconut.

While the spice plantations cultivated by the Arabs are largely defunct today, apart from a handful used in the tourism industry, these were once invaluable in the spice trade route and at a time, around 1812, even overtook Indonesia’s production when Zanzibar became the largest clove producer.

Ginger, black pepper, lemongrass and cinnamon were also introduced by the Arabs and after the demise of the slave trade the spice plantations buoyed the island economically, for a while.

Coffee is referred to kahawa, reflective of its Arabic roots: gahwa, similarly flavoured, is often served with dates in Arabic culture.

Dates are reserved for the fast during Ramadan and being imported, are too expensive for everyday consumption along the Swahili coast.

Kashata is enjoyed with coffee instead. From the Hindu and Muslim Indians, a great many foods have made their way into Swahili daily life.

Take kachoris, chapatis – though these are made with oil not ghee usually, sambusas (samosas), pilau rice and briyani beef or chicken and boiled eggs, and mild curries and stews using fresh coconut milk.
Chinese Fish, chicken, goat and beef feature, though vegetables form the staple of most meals. The Goans, Yemenis, Chinese and Parsis have all made small indents in the food scene too.


Made in the African Great Lakes region and across southern Africa, ugali is a staple food made from maize meal, millet or sorghum flour, salt and hot water. It resembles a thick dough. It can also be made into a thinner consistency porridge with the addition of water or milk.

Nyama Choma

This refers to seasoned roasted meat on the barbeque or grill. Chicken, mutton, goat and beef are popular.


A delicately spiced rice using cardamom, cumin seeds, cinnamon and cloves. Briyani with chicken, beef or goat is also popular and used as celebration or special occasion meals.


A thick triangular or circular pastry with Indian origins, filled with spiced potato, peas and other fillings, and deep-fried – a popular street snack.


Deep-fried triangular doughnuts served with milk and sugar.

Wali wa nazi

Rice cooked with fresh coconut milk and sometimes grated coconut flesh.

Mchuzi wa Samaki

Fish cooked in a delicate curry sauce or gravy with coconut.


Vitumbua is a breakfast dish in Tanzania you usually have it with a good cup of Chai or Tea in Kiswahili, while its still warm. Back home there are street vendors whom we call Mama Ntilie or mama chai were people would buy them straight from her pan.

Ingredients: makes approx 30 small vitumbua.

1 cups finely ground rice flour

4 tablespoons plain flour

1 packet of coconut milk powder

1 egg white

1/2 cup warm water

1 teaspoon yeast

1/4 cup sugar (You can add upto 1/2 cup, like mine less sweet)

1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds

oil for frying and some people use vegetable ghee.


Mix rice flour, plain flour, sugar, yeast, cardamom and the coconut powder then add the water slowly to form a thick paste.You may need to add less or more water.

Cover and keep in a warm area oven with the lamp on, for approx 45-60 minutes you see bubbles on the top and has atleast doubled in size. Some chefs advice to leave it overnight.

Give the batter a stirring.

Heat the pan, place a drop of oil in each pan, pour a teaspoonful of batter so that the pan is 3/4 full. Cook for 2-3 minutes until it browns,flip the vitumbua.

Cook the other side and repeat until all the batter is finished.

Kaimatti or Qaimatti


3 cups white flour

2 teaspoons yeast with a pinch of sugar ( mixed )

2/3 cup yogurt

1/2 cup warm water water

oil for frying


Add to flour a little salt, water and the yogurt, and mix to a thick batter. Leave aside for six (6) hours.

Mix the yeast with the sugar and warm water, leave to ferment.

Add the yeast to the batter and mix until batter peaks; leave aside for a further three hours.

Method of Frying:

Heat the oil. Shape batter into little balls, and put them a few at a time in the hot deep oil and fry until golden brown.

Dumplings should be entirely covered with oil during frying.

Take great care as the oil will splash during the course of frying. When frying is complete soak the dumplings in syrup and serve hot.

The Syrup or Shira


2 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon rose water

juice of half a lemon


Put the water in a pan with the sugar and place over a medium heat; bring to boil and allow to boil for ten minutes, removing the froth as it appears.

Add the lemon juice and leave to simmer for ten minutes; add the rose water

Mkate wa Sinia or Swahili Rice Bread

Mkate wa sinia is a swahili word means bread of the platter.

This is a rice bread/cake that is normally used as a snack or kitafunio - something you eat whilst drinking tea, either in the morning or 4 pm in the evening in Tanzania.

It is also widely known in all the Swahili speaking countries in East Africa, such as Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia etc etc

Mahitaji or Ingredients:

Unga wa mchele (rice flour 2 cups)

Sukari (sugar 3/4 cup)

Hamira (Dried yeast 3/4 tbsp)

Hiliki (Cardamon powder 1 tsp) (I put about 3 tsp of it, my mom doesn't approve but it's ok)

Ute wa yai (1 egg white)

Tui la nazi (coconut milk 1 na 1/2 cup)

Mafuta (vegetable oil to grease pan)


In a large bowl, in the following order, mix rice flour, sugar, yeast, cardamom. Mix well

Add coconut milk, then egg white and mix well, cover with paper towel

Let rise for 30-45 min

Preheat oven to 375*F, pour in a baking pan

Bake for 35 min, insert a toothpick to check (just a lil bit should stick, almost nothing)

Let cool, for a long time.

Cut, and enjoy with Chai Maziwa (Milk Tea, or black tea)


Kashata is a street food from Tanzania. It is sold by street vendors on under the street lights. This very simple and cheap snack is not only sweet but can keep you pretty full.

The recipe mainly has coconuts, peanuts, and different kinds of nuts.

The basic Kashata only has one type of nut in it. Most people use whatever type of nut they can cheaply afford.



Sugar - 2 cups

Water - 3/4 cups

Peanuts - 2 cups (Peeled, Roasted and crushed/blended)

Cardamom - 1/2 teaspoon

Milk Powder - 2 teaspoon


Add in the sugar and the water until it boils and gets sticky. Mix in the peanuts, the milk powder and cardamom with the sugar mixture.

Stir carefully on low heat, make sure it does not burn until it gets really sticky and thoroughly mixed.

Get a square tray and lightly grease it or you can line it with waxed paper.

Pour the mixture gently onto the tray and spread it over the tray.

Let rest for a few minutes. Cut into squares or diamonds while still warm. Let cool and serve. ENJOY!



3/4 cup / 55g grated or desiccated coconut

1/2 cup / 55g peanuts, roasted and coarsely chopped or you can buy already chopped peanuts

1/3 cup / 55g sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Method:1. Sprinkle the sugar on to a frying pan and cook it over a low heat, stirring, until it melts and begins to brown.

2. Add in the coconut, peanuts and cinnamon. Mix well.

3. When the sugar begins to set, remove the pan from the heat.

To test for setting, put a drop of water into the pan when the sugar is beginning to turn golden brown.

When the drop sets into a hard ball, remove the pan from the heat.

4. As the mixture cools, remove from the pan while it is still soft. Shape into walnut-sized balls and leave to cool.


Ukwaju means tamarind in swahili and this sauce is great. It can be eaten with pretty much anything..and it's super easy
it's like a Swahili Smoothie.


Tamarind - 2 packets

Hot water - 11/2 cup

Salt - pinch

Sugar - 2 tablespoons

Whole green/red chilli - 1-2 depending on how hot you want it to be

Cilantro - A few sprigs


Soak tamarinds in the hot water for 10-20 minutes till tamarind is soft.

Remove the seeds and the roots.

Using a blender, mix the tamarind water, salt, sugar, whole chilli, cilantro and blend properly.

Pour your mixture into a bowl, ready to serve.

Vibibi or Tanzanian Rice Pancakes

As you can notice, there is a commonality of rice dishes in Tanzania.

Rice can pretty much be used as a main meal with stew, dessert, snack, rice can be used to make breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc etc, the limit is the sky.

Normally, you serve them with hot chai or tea


Rice - 2 Cups (soaked overnight)

Flour - 1 tablespoon

Sugar - 1 Cup

Yeast - 1 teaspoons

Cardamom - 1 teaspoon

Coconut milk - 1.5 Cups



Blend the rice and the Coconut milk until smooth.

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside, until yeast mixture foams.

Add the yeast, flour, cardamom in the mixture and mix it all up. Cover in a warm place to let it rise.

When the batter has doubled in size, add the sugar and mix well.

Make sure your batter is not too thick, if it is just add a little milk.

Heat up your griddle or skillet, and spread about 1 tablespoon of oil.

When hot, pour some of the batter into the griddle or skillet and spread to form a circle just like the way you would make pancakes.

When golden brown on the bottom and flip it carefully.

Repeat the process, adding more oil when necessary.

Chilla yumm


Mchele 2 Vikombe

Tui la nazi 2 Vikombe

Sukari 1 Kikombe

Maziwa ½ Kikombe

Hamira 1 Kijiko cha chai


Cooking time: 8 min This is a really popular snack all over East Africa


2 cups (400 g) Granulated sugar

2 cups (180 g) Unsweetened dried coconut flakes

½ cup (119 mL) Coconut milk

⅔ cup (158 mL) Milk

3 Tbsp (36 g) All-purpose flour


1.Melt sugar on a medium-heat pan. Make sure it doesn't burn but still liquid

2.Add coconut, half the butter and cook

3.Add flour and remaining butter cook well

4. Let cool and shape into balls

Bhajia za Dengu

Yumm.. this is a fantastic snack!!!... very simple and fun


Unga wa dengu (gram flour 1/4 kilo)

Kitunguu kilichokatwa (2 Onions)

Hoho (1/2 green pepper )

Pilipili iliokatwakatwa (scotch bonnet pepper 1/2)

Barking powder (1/4 tsp)

Chumvi (salt)

Kitunguu swaum (2 garlic cloves)

Mafuta ya kukaangia (vegetable oil)Procedure

Binzari manjano (turmeric 1/4 tsp

Mix flour, tumeric, baking powder add water, and the rest of ingredients, mix well..PLEASE don’t make the batter too watery.

Let rise for 20 min.

Heat oil and start frying

Get the oil at the right temperature. If the oil is too hot, it will quickly cook the outside and leave the inside raw.

If it is not hot enough, the bajiyas will sink and they will absorb too much oil.

Zanzibari cuisine reflects several heterogeneous influences, as a consequence of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nature of Zanzibar's and Swahili heritage. It is a mixture of various culinary traditions, including Bantu, Arab, Portuguese, Indian, British and even Chinese cuisine.

The first inhabitants of Zanzibar were Bantus coming from mainland Tanganyika. They consisted of mostly fishers and their diet thus consisted of primarily seafood, such as tuna, mackerel, lobster, squid, octopus and oysters.

Other ingredients and recipes brought by Bantus that are found in today's Zanzibari cuisine some of which became widespread during European colonialism are common beans, sweet potatoes, manioc chips, yam and plaintain.

In the 9th century, Omanis, Yemenis and Persians began colonizing the Swahili Coast, including the Zanzibar Archipelago.

They brought along with them new dishes and ingredients, most notably spices, coconut, mango, citrus and rice.

One of the most common Zanzibar recipes, the pilau or pilaf rice i.e., rice, coconuts, nuts and spices, clearly reflects its Arab origin.

Between the 15th century and the 16th century, the Portuguese quickly conquered most of the African Great Lakes, including Zanzibar.

The main Portuguese influences on Zanzibari cuisine was the introduction of those that would become major types of staple food in Zanzibar, namely manioc, maize and pineapple.

In 1651, the Portuguese lost control of Zanzibar to the Omani sultanate.

The Omanis brought new spices and intensified the commercial relationships between Zanzibar and India; as a consequence, Indian recipes such as chutney, masala, biryani, curry, fish cakes and samoosa (samosa) made it to Zanzibar.

Most recipes of foreign origin were adapted to the ingredients that were available on the island, thus giving birth to a largely original fusion cuisine.

Around the beginning of the 20th century, most of the African Great Lakes region was colonised by the Germans and the British.

Those did not mix with the local population as much as the Arabs, Persians and Indians had done, and their influence on Zanzibari cuisine is less evident; yet, some very common Zanzibari recipes, such as pepper steak, can be generically defined as having a European origin.

After independence, Tanzania established a strong relationship with China; Chinese physicians, engineers, and military consultants came to Zanzibar.

Although only a small fraction of today's Zanzibari population has Chinese origins, some recipes and ingredients, such as soy sauce, have become commonplace on the island.

Sorpotel is a recipe of Portuguese-Indian (Goan) origin, consisting of a mixture of boiled meat; in Zanzibar, this includes tongue, heart and liver. It is cooked with masala a mix of spices similar to curry, as well as tamarind and vinegar.

The spice cake is the most typical dessert in Zanzibari cuisine. It is made of a pastry with a mix of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and chocolate.

Boku-boku is a sort of skew of meat cooked in maize, ginger, cumin, chili, tomato and onion.

Bread prepared with hazelnuts and dates, as well as eggs and vanilla, is the most traditional food to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Pilau meat is usually prepared with goose,sometimes calf or cow meat cooked with potatoes, onions, spices, coconut milk and rice.

Pepper shark, Shark is one of the most traditional types of Zanzibari seafood; it is prepared with pepper and other spices.

Pweza wa nazi meaning octopus and coconut in Swahili is octopus boiled in coconut milk, curry, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic and lime juice.

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